When the new Terminal C at Orlando International Airport (MCO) opened to the public in September 2022, the $2.8 billion project featured advancements such as facial recognition technology, virtual ramp controls, automated bin return systems and a radio frequency identification (RFID) tote baggage handling system.

The expansion, which supports a 25% increase in airport passenger capacity to or roughly 10 to 12 million more flyers, also features a modern design and natural light throughout.

To build its new terminal, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) hired two construction managers at risk (CMAR), a design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) baggage handling system and numerous design-build teams for the concessions and tenant build outs. The entire Terminal C operates as one building, but the Turner Kiewit CMAR team handled the landside of the expansion joint, and Hensel Phelps’ CMAR team completed the airside of the expansion joint.

Behind the scenes at the 1.2 million-square-foot LEED gold-certified terminal are 860 precast concrete panels, each of which is 12 feet wide and 30 feet tall. The panels serve as an integral part of what is the nation’s first fully integrated, multimodal airport terminal for rail, air and ground transportation.

The project is part of MCO’s South Terminal Campus and included 15 gates for landside and airside activities, a landside terminal, an airside concourse and a ground transportation facility. Scott Shedek, GOAA’s vice president of construction, said precast concrete was the material of choice for the roughly 860 panels that used to build the terminal’s passenger boarding bridges and for Level 1 of the landside terminal.

“Precast concrete was the natural choice for this project based on the project’s design and also for ease of installation by the construction manager at risk,” Shedek said.

The fact that the panels would be manufactured in a controlled environment at nearby Leesburg Concrete Company’s plant in central Florida was another compelling reason to use precast.

“The quality control is very high (with) precast panels,” Shedek said. “The precast also provided the strength and durability that we needed for the project. Architecturally, the precast has a very nice look to it. It’s nice and clean.”

Once the panels were delivered to the jobsite – a process that Shedek said happened in a timely manner – they quickly were attached to the terminal’s exterior walls and other areas by the two contractors.

The precast panel installation process was fast, Shedek said, and the post-installation cleanup process was a breeze.

“Precast is very clean to install because there’s no debris left behind,” he said. “It also only required a small crew to install, so there wasn’t much impact to the other trades that were working on these two projects.”

The project as a whole was complex and required coordination among the subcontractors working onsite, but the precast portion stood out for its simplicity.

“By using precast the contractors were able to handle much of the coordination in advance for pipe penetrations and other elements,” said Shedek, who added that the overall project went well and opened to the public on schedule. “Using the precast concrete actually saved the contractors some time on the installation side and helped them stay within their schedule to open on time in September.”

Cladding the exterior of the project

Kirk Rouse, president at Leesburg Concrete Company in Leesburg, Fla., said producing the 860 architectural panels was pretty much “business as usual” for the facility, which has manufactured products for a wide range of high-profile projects in Florida and the southeastern United States.

“We coordinated with the project engineers along with LEAP and associates to panelize the exterior of the towers” Rouse said. “Then, we made monolithic pieces with integral color, several panels per elevation and went around the different terminals to clad the exterior of the airport.

“We have worked on several projects with both Hensel Phelps and Turner Kiewit and have enjoyed the relationships.”

Leesburg Concrete Company worked with Bryan Trimbath, president of Tampa-based LEAP Associates International, which served as the precaster’s specialty engineer for this project.

Trimbath said he prepared the design for the precast panels and connections, then produced the shop and product drawings for the more than 700 products.

“We specified the dimensions and sizes on the drawings, and then designed the precast products accordingly,” he said.

Like Shedek, Trimbath said precast concrete was the natural choice for the GOAA’s terminal project, both for the material’s durability and ease of installation at the jobsite.

“It was a fairly straightforward project,” Trimbath said. “LEAP used a building information model both with the project design team and with the other trades working on the project. It was essential that we coordinate with the other trades in those project conditions.”

Each tower includes a cast-in-place structure, and the precast panels were installed on the exterior of those structures. The precast portion included multiple panels that were installed from bottom to top. Because there was no access behind the panels, some of them were built with “blind connections.” That way, the panels could be set atop one another using a grout sleeve.

Trimbath said the process went “pretty smoothly” from concept to completion.

“Turner Kiewit and Hensel Phelps were both good to work with and any project we work on for Leesburg Concrete Company always goes well,” he said. “They always manufacturer high-quality products and the airport terminal project was no different.”

Quick, durable and beautiful 

Rouse said the integral-colored panels were well received when they showed up at the jobsite that day.

“We loaded the panels at the plant, and they are lifted off the truck on site with a crane and immediately flown into place and welded out,” he said. “Very efficient, needing only a very small group of people (mostly welders, crane operators and safety professionals). There was very little impact to the site. We also don’t leave behind any debris or trash of any kind, so the whole process is very clean.”

The project required the coordination of shop drawings and site surveys to ensure a good fit once the panels were put in place. The precaster also left openings for door frames in some of the panels, and then completed the frame installation on site.

“There wasn’t anything especially difficult about the precast production process, but the coordination that takes place between producing the panels and ensuring a good fit to the structure requires attention,” Rouse said. “We had to make sure everything fit once it was delivered to the site, and that’s where LEAP really added value to the project.

“We have had great success over the years utilizing LEAP and Associates services for these types of projects.”

Leesburg Concrete Company is now working with Hensel Phelps on the second phase of the project, which currently is being engineered and will require about 160 precast panels.

“We’re just beginning that process now with Hensel Phelps, so they were obviously pleased with our work on the Terminal C project,” Rouse said. “We were equally as pleased to have worked with them on this important project.”

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.